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Syria Today – ISIS Attack in Hama; Turkey Escalates Fight with Kurds; Syria and Iran Launch Joint Banks

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.
Syria Today – ISIS Attack in Hama; Turkey Escalates Fight with Kurds; Syria and Iran Launch Joint Banks

On Tuesday, there was an incident in the Syrian desert where militants from the Daesh group attacked an army-guarded convoy of oil tankers. This resulted in the loss of seven lives, including two civilians. In parallel, the United States and Russia, who act as guarantors for separate cease-fire agreements, have remained conspicuously silent on Turkey’s military actions against the Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration in North and Northeast Syria. At the same time, the Iranian Finance and Economic Affairs Minister, Ehsan Khandouzi, has announced the launch of a joint bank and insurance company with Syria. This move aims to foster economic cooperation between the two nations.

ISIS attack on Syria oil convoy kills 7

Daesh group militants attacked a convoy of oil tankers guarded by the army in the Syrian desert on Tuesday, killing seven people including two civilians, a war monitor said.

“Five regime forces and two drivers have been killed in the armed attack by Daesh militants” in the east of Hama province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The attackers used machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, said the Britain-based monitor, which relies on a wide network of sources inside Syria.

In March 2019, Daesh lost the last territory it had held in Syria following a military campaign backed by a US-led coalition, but militant remnants continue to hide out in the desert and launch deadly attacks.

They have used such hideouts to ambush civilians, Kurdish-led forces, Syrian government troops and pro-Iran fighters, while also mounting attacks in neighboring Iraq.

Syria’s war broke out after President Bashar Assad’s repression of peaceful anti-government demonstrations in 2011 escalated into a deadly conflict that pulled in foreign powers and global jihadists.

The conflict has killed more than half a million people and displaced millions.

Last week, Daesh militants claimed responsibility for a rare bombing in Damascus that killed at least six people near the capital’s Sayyida Zeinab mausoleum, Syria’s most visited Shiite pilgrimage site.

US, Russia mum as Turkey escalates attacks against Kurdish groups in Syria and Iraq

Al-Monitor has published a long report that sheds light on the Turkish military campaign, which includes airstrikes and drone strikes targeting alleged PKK positions, resulting in casualties, including civilians. 

The United States and Russia, acting as guarantors of separate cease-fire agreements, have remained conspicuously silent on Turkey’s military actions, despite apprehensions raised by the Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration in North and Northeast Syria. 

The report delves into various critical issues, including the US alliance with the SDF, the decline in US engagement with the Autonomous Administration, and the PKK’s retaliatory responses. Geopolitical complexities and sensitivities involving Turkey, the US, and Russia add further dimensions to the conflict, raising questions about major powers’ commitment to protecting Kurdish groups in the region.

The report focuses on the following issues:

  1. Turkish military campaign: Turkey has been carrying out airstrikes and drone strikes against alleged PKK targets in Syria and Iraq. The attacks have resulted in casualties, including civilians.
  2. US and Russia’s silence: Both the White House and the State Department have not publicly addressed Turkey’s aggression against Kurdish groups. The US has been hesitant to rebuke Ankara, as it seeks to pull Turkey to its side amid Russia’s war on Ukraine.
  3. US alliance with the SDF: Turkey views the SDF as a terrorist organization, while the US sees them as allies in the fight against the Islamic State (IS). However, Turkey perceives the SDF and PKK as two arms of the same organization threatening its national security.
  4. Decline in US engagement with the Autonomous Administration: The US’s diplomatic engagement with the Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration has decreased since Russia’s occupation of Ukraine, and this has raised concerns among Kurdish officials.
  5. PKK’s response: The PKK has responded to the Turkish attacks with drone strikes, putting pressure on Turkey’s military efforts.
  6. Turkey’s airstrikes on Sinjar: Turkish airstrikes on Sinjar in 2021, which targeted PKK militants, have led to a formal complaint to the United Nations Human Rights Council by the Yazidis, who claim that the strikes hit a civilian hospital and killed eight people.

The situation is complex and sensitive due to geopolitical considerations involving Turkey, the US, and Russia. The attacks have led to civilian casualties and further destabilization in the region. The silence from major powers raises questions about their stance on the conflict and their commitment to protecting Kurdish groups in the area.

Syria Willing to Receive 180,000 Refugees From Lebanon

On Tuesday, Lebanese Minister of the Displaced Issam Charafeddine said that Syria has expressed its willingness to receive 180,000 displaced refugees from Lebanon at the first stage.

“We have reached an understanding with the Syrian government to resolve the crisis of the displaced safely,” Charafeddine was quoted as saying by the Elnashra news website.

“There is mutual trust with the Syrian side and a commitment to the understanding reached last year regarding the safe return of the displaced,” Charafeddine said, adding that shelter centers have been ready to receive the displaced and provide them with facilities, health care, and education.

The Lebanese minister proposed forming a tripartite committee with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Syria but was rejected on the ground of instability in Syria.

The UNHCR reported that Lebanon hosts the largest number of refugees per capita and per square km in the world.

According to statistics released by the Lebanese government, around 2 million Syrian refugees are living in Lebanon, a country with a population of more than 5.5 million.

The Lebanese government insists on returning Syrian refugees to their homeland as the country is facing its worst socio-economic crisis in decades and can no longer meet the growing needs of refugees.

Iran, Syria launch joint bank, insurance company

Iranian Finance and Economic Affairs Minister Ehsan Khandouzi has announced launching a joint bank and insurance company with Syria, the ministry’s portal Shada reported.

Khandouzi made the announcement after meeting with Syrian Communications and Technology Minister Iyad Mohammad al-Khatib and the country’s Economy and Foreign Trade Minister Mohammad Samer al-Khalil in Tehran on Monday.

According to Khandouzi, the insurance company is a consortium of Iranian and Syrian insurance firms and the joint bank is also shared, with Iran owning 60 percent and Syria 40 percent of the shares.

He noted that the mentioned bank and insurance company have been launched mainly with the aim of facilitating the activities of Iranian businessmen and traders in Syria.

“We hope that with more cooperation between the two countries, especially in the fields of taxation and customs, we will witness a new chapter in economic relations between the two countries,” Khandouzi said.

The Syrian market is a very green market that can provide an excellent opportunity for Iranian companies, manufacturers, investors and businessmen, he added.

According to the minister, the ease of using investment and trade opportunities in the Syrian market following the agreements made can be attractive to many Iranian companies, since it can increase their export potential and revenues and also deepen their influence in neighbouring countries.

“Of course, we are also ready to welcome Syrian investors and businessmen in Iran. It seems that the institutionalization of the financial and insurance sector, as a necessary prelude to advancing business and investment goals, can be considered good news for the economic operators of both sides,” the official said.

Water cut for nearly one million people in Hasakah Province since June 23

According to a report released on Monday by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the Alouk water station has been shut down since June 23, causing water cuts that are impacting nearly one million people, as Kurdistan 24 has reported.

The station’s closure, under the control of Turkish-backed factions, is causing significant humanitarian concerns for the affected population.

The report also added that water scarcity in northeastern Syria has been exacerbated by low water levels in the Euphrates River since Jan. 2021.

“In the north-east, pumping from the Alouk water station is regularly interrupted and causes critical shortages in Al-Hasakeh Governorate and the surrounding areas, affecting over 460,000 people in Al-Hasakeh City, Tal Tamer and several internally displaced persons’ camps, as well as half a million people in the surrounding areas and camps such as Al-Hol, Areeshah and Al-Roj,” the report said.

The UN report mentioned that interruptions to the Alouk water station functionality have occurred as a result of hostilities, technical failings and energy supply disruptions. The UN report did not blame the Turkish-backed groups or Turkey for the disruptions.

Since Turkish-backed groups took control of the Alouk water station in Oct. 2019, the act of cutting off water supply has had a severe impact on one million people residing in Hasaka Province.

The report also noted that the Syrian Government technical teams continued to be refused access to the station from late Oct. 2022 to undertake maintenance works.

Due to inflation and other factors, prices have escalated in Hasakah, leaving the residents dependent on purchasing costly water for their drinking and domestic requirements.

As of June 11, the report highlighted a substantial increase in the price of a 35-barrel tank, surging from 7,000 Syrian pounds to over 10,000 Syrian pounds.

55 Civilians, Including 16 Children, Four Women, and Three Individuals Who Died due to Torture Documented Killed in July 2023 in Syria

The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) released a monthly report revealing that in July 2023, 55 civilians were killed in Syria. Among the victims were 16 children, four women, and three individuals who died due to torture. The report highlights that bombings by unidentified parties accounted for 24 percent of all deaths in July and led to two massacres.

The report provides details on the death toll of victims killed by the parties to the conflict and controlling forces in Syria during that period. It sheds light on SNHR’s work concerning the issue of extrajudicial killings. The report draws upon daily monitoring of news and developments, along with an analysis of photographs and videos, to gather information.

One notable point mentioned in the report is the Syrian regime’s failure to register the deaths of the hundreds of thousands of citizens killed since March 2011 in the civil registry’s death records. The regime exerts absolute control over the issuance of death certificates, and they are not made available to the families of its victims, including the missing and forcibly disappeared. The report also highlights that the regime has imposed new conditions and security clearance requirements on death registration cases, increasing the security services’ intrusion into legal procedures.

The report documents the killings perpetrated by different parties to the conflict, with the Syrian regime responsible for eight civilian deaths, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) for four, international coalition forces for one, all armed opposition factions/Syrian National Army (SNA) for three, and Russian forces for one. Other parties were responsible for the remaining 38 civilian deaths. The report also notes that landmine explosions killed five civilians in July, bringing the total number of landmine victims in 2023 to 91, including 20 children and eight women.

Furthermore, the report reveals that three individuals died due to torture at the hands of Syrian regime forces in July. Since the beginning of 2023, the Syrian regime has been responsible for approximately 39 percent of all documented victims who died due to torture.

The report raises concerns about deliberate attacks against civilians and civilian objects, along with indiscriminate bombardments that have resulted in the destruction of vital facilities and buildings. It calls on the UN Security Council to take further action, referring the Syrian case to the International Criminal Court and holding those involved in crimes against humanity and war crimes accountable.

The report also requests greater efforts from relevant United Nations agencies to provide humanitarian assistance in conflict-affected areas and displaced persons camps. It calls for the implementation of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine and the need to resort to Chapter VII for the Syrian case. The report also recommends launching projects to create maps revealing the locations of landmines and cluster munitions in all Syrian governorates to facilitate their clearing and educate the population about their presence.

Lastly, the report calls on the Syrian regime to stop indiscriminate shelling and targeting of civilian areas, hospitals, schools, and markets and to comply with UN Security Council resolutions and humanitarian law. It also urges all parties to provide detailed maps of landmine locations, especially those planted in civilian areas and makes additional recommendations.

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